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Birding the Hardangervidda

Birding the Hardangervidda


The Hardangervidda is a fantastic birding location, although location is perhaps too small a word for it. This vast area houses all manner of specialist alpine birds. The number of species seen here during a days birding is unlikely to be high - typically around 30 - but the quality can be astounding. It must be one of Eurpoe's last wildernesses; one can often have the place to oneself and walking for kilometres across the landscape is a magical experience.

One is always left wanting more and feeling that there is plenty to come back for, a couple of days can easily be spent covering just a restricted area well. Exploring this mountain plateau can become a lifetime obsession....

Hardangervidda in June
Main road over Hardangervidda, early June 2007

The permanent ice cap "Hardangerjøkulen". Landscape with a teleophoto lens - June 2010

Cabins such as this one are dotted about the vidda

The numbers and distribution of the various species can vary tremendously from year to year, as can the amount of snow cover early in the season. The best time to bird the vidda is, in my opinion, the second half of June and early July, however, access away from the main road can be restricted prior to early July if one is not suitably equipped with skis. Many species are still present into August but can be harder to find. Early in the season birds are concentrated in the snow free areas - often on south facing slopes.  The majority of the target species were present even under the conditions illustated in the above picture!

Birding on "the vidda" is a wonderful experience but one should be prepared for rapid changes in weather, snow storms can occur even in the middle of summer. Indeed I have been sunburnt under cloud free skies one day and forced off by gale force winds and snow the following day even in late June! However, this is all part of the magical experience of birding the vidda.

Great Snipe nest
Meadow Pipit
Great Snipe nest, Hardangervidda Meadow Pipit / heipiplerke (digiscoped)


There is restricted access (although not enough to prevent seeing the birds) to some parts of the vidda, notably Bjoreidalen. Here there are marked routes one must follow to avoid trampling on the many nests.

Another piece of advice to those planning on hiking into the area off the beaten track: take a map and a compass - and use it! Map skills seem to be a disappearing talent so perhaps I should say "GPS receiver or satellite navigation" instead of compass.

There are several ways to explore the Hardangervidda. My personal favourite is to go in on foot with a good friend or family member and a tent. There are also cabins dotted around the vidda which one can walk between, accomodation is basic but this too is a wonderful way to "do" the area. Alternatively there are a number of roadside "mountain lodges" which offer excellent accomodation, hot meals and even a well earned beer! Rewarding day trips can be made using these lodges as a base station - examples of such lodges are at Dyranut (generally opens sometime in late June) and at Halne (generally opens around Easter).

However, birding this fantastic area can be done without leaving the main road. Trekking out on the vidda may not be an option for many - either due to time restrictions or non-birding families. There are numerous lay-bys and rest stops along the road, merely stopping at these and scanning the tops can be productive, although it is unlikely that one will "clean up" all the target species in this manner.

One of the most popular and easiest ways to see many of the birds of the Hardangervidda is to drive the toll road from Tråstølen to Tinnhølen. This road usually opens in early July.

View of Tråstølen and the main road
Tråstølen and the main road - picture taken with a telephoto lens

Night time view of Halnefjord
Night time (23:30!) view of Halnefjord, June 2007 . Taken with telephoto lens (!)

The speciality species with which most birders should connect without undue difficulty include Rough-legged Buzzard,   Red-spotted Bluethroat, Ring Ousel, Horned Lark (Shorelark), Lapland Longspur. Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Snow Bunting and Temminck's Stint are widespread but more localised breeders which may require more luck (or effort!) to find.

Young Bluethroat, August 2019
Young Bluethroat, August 2019

Red-spotted Bluethroat Lapland Longspur
Red-spotted Bluethroat / Blåstrupe Lapland Bunting / Lapland Longspur / Lappspurv
Shorelark, Hardangervidda, July 2020 Temminck's Stint, Hardangervidda, July 2020
Shorelark, Hardangervidda, July 2020 Temminck's Stint, Hardangervidda, July 2020

Diving duck  are quite well represented with Common and Velvet Scoters, Greater Scaup and  Goldeneye relatively numerous. Long-tailed Duck are somewhat harder to find.

Male Goosander, Hardangervidda
Goosander / laksand on the Hardangervidda

Short-eared Owl hunting over the Hardangervidda
Short-eared Owl / jordugle hunting over the Hardangervidda

Leaving Tinnhølen, August 2019
On our way back to the main road, August 2019

There are a number of "show stoppers" which absolutely can be seen but are somewhat unpredictable and / or require specialised knowledge of their whereabouts. Such species include Gyrfalcon, Great Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Skua, Crane and the almost mythical Snowy Owl. The latter species has not been recorded breeding on the vidda for many years.

Cranes feeding on the vidda
Evening view from the tent - Cranes feeding. June 2010

Dotterel / Boltit - one of the special species to breed on the "vidde"

The supporting cast (i.e. the most numerous species) include Golden Plover in their fantastic breeding plumage, Willow Grouse, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Cuckoo, Northern Wheatear, Fieldfare, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler (really pushing the limit of the definition of tree line!). Mealy Redpoll and Reed Bunting.

Willow warbler

Yellow Wagtail, Hardangervidda, August 2019
Yellow Wagtail, Hardangervidda, August 2019

Young Ringed Plover, Hardangervidda, August 2019
Young Ringed Plover, Hardangervidda, August 2019

Other species can include Goosander, Kestrel, Merlin, Yellow Wagtail, Redwing, Purple Sandpiper and a number of species "visiting" from lower altitudes, for example feeding parties of Common Swift.

There are also mammals to be seen, noteably Reindeer and Lemming.

Lemming on the Hardangervidda

Amazingly both frogs and toads live on the Hardangervidda
Amazingly both frogs and toads live on the Hardangervidda - surviving winter temperatures of less than -30 degrees!

Introduction to Hardangervidda in Norwegian (including nice photos!)

History of people travelling over the Hardangervidda

Links to other birding at other locations in Norway:

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